Welfare & Institutions Code 10980 WIC

WIC 10980 – Welfare Fraud in Los Angeles

10980 WIC - Welfare Fraud in Los Angeles

Welfare Fraud in Los Angeles – Table of Contents

Definition under Welfare & Institutions Code 10980

Of all the crimes one can think of, welfare fraud doesn’t usually top the list. However, it is a real offense with real legal consequences.

Under California law, there are two ways to commit welfare fraud:

as a recipient, or internally.

The more common offense is recipient fraud, where someone provides false, misleading or incomplete information in order to obtain illegitimate state benefits. Its counterpart is internal fraud, where an employee is the violator—providing or assigning benefits to another whom they know is ineligible.

Welfare & Institutions Code Section 10980 governs welfare fraud penalties.

It states, in part:

(a) Any person who, willfully and knowingly, with the intent to deceive, makes a false statement or representation or knowingly fails to disclose a material fact in order to obtain aid under the provisions of this division or who, knowing he or she is not entitled thereto, attempts to obtain aid or to continue to receive aid to which he or she is not entitled, or to receive a larger amount than that to which he or she is legally entitled, is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than six months, by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500), or by both imprisonment and fine.

(b) Any person who knowingly makes more than one application for aid under the provisions of this division with the intent of establishing multiple entitlements for any person for the same period or who makes an application for that aid for a fictitious or nonexistent person or by claiming a false identity for any person is guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for a period of 16 months, two years, or three years, by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine; or by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both imprisonment and fine.

Under the Penal Code, an accused can commit welfare fraud in a number of ways, such as:

  • Intentionally providing false or misleading information on an application for benefits;
  • Failing to disclose important information required for the receipt of benefits;
  • Submitting several applications to receive additional benefits;
  • Using a fake name on an application for benefits; and/or
  • Possession of fake benefit documents or cards.

Sentencing/Punishment Welfare & Institutions Code 10980

Welfare fraud in California is considered a ‘wobbler‘ crime—meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. For instance, WIC Section 10980(a) states that any person who, willfully and knowingly, with the intent to deceive, makes a false statement in order to obtain aid knowing he or she is not entitled, is guilty of welfare fraud. This provision is charged as a misdemeanor.

Whereas WIC Section 10980(b) states that any person who knowingly makes more than one application for aid with the intent of establishing multiple entitlements or who makes an application for that aid for a nonexistent person is guilty of the crime of welfare fraud, but this provision can be charged with a felony crime.

Here is a breakdown of the various welfare fraud offenses and their consequences:

  • Welfare and Institutions Code Section 10980(a):

    a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than six months, by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500), or by both imprisonment and fine.

  • Welfare and Institutions Code Section 10980(b):

    a felony, punishable by imprisonment or a period of 16 months, two years, or three years, by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine; or by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both imprisonment and fine.

  • Welfare and Institutions Code Section 10980(c):

    “wobbler” provision, can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony offense.

    • Misdemeanor – if the total amount of the aid obtained or retained is nine hundred fifty dollars ($950) or less, the offense is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than six months, by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500), or by both imprisonment and fine.
    • Felony – if the total amount of the aid obtained or retained is more than nine hundred fifty dollars ($950), the offense is punishable by imprisonment for a period of 16 months, two years, or three years, by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine; or by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than one year, by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both imprisonment and fine.
  • Welfare and Institutions Code Section 10980(d):

    a felony, punishable by imprisonment for a period of 16 months, two years, or three years, by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine.

  • Welfare and Institutions Code Section 10980(e):

    “wobbler” provision, charged as forgery (which can be a misdemeanor or felony offense).

  • Welfare and Institutions Code Section 10980(f):

    a felony, charged as embezzlement of public funds (which is a felony offense).

  • Welfare and Institutions Code Section 10980(g):

    “wobbler” provision, can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony offense.

    • Misdemeanor – if the face value of the benefits is nine hundred fifty dollars ($950) or less, the offense is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than six months, by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500), or by both imprisonment and fine.
    • Felony – if the face value of the benefits exceeds nine hundred fifty dollars ($950), the offense is punishable by imprisonment for a period of 16 months, two years, or three years, by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine, or by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both imprisonment and fine.

Furthermore, under this statute, the court has the discretion to impose additional penalties in welfare fraud cases involving the electronic transfer of benefits. Under WIC Section 10980(h), the court can impose the following punishments where the welfare fraud violation is committed by means of an electronic transfer of benefits (in addition and consecutive to any underlying sanctions for the violation or attempted violation):

  • If the electronic transfer of benefits exceeds fifty thousand dollars ($50,000), an additional term of one year.
  • If the electronic transfer of benefits exceeds one hundred fifty thousand dollars ($150,000), an additional term of two years.
  • If the electronic transfer of benefits exceeds one million dollars ($1,000,000), an additional term of three years.
  • If the electronic transfer of benefits exceeds two million five hundred thousand dollars ($2,500,000), an additional term of four years.

Prosecuting Welfare & Institutions Code 10980

As specified in WIC Section 10980, a person must knowingly, with the intent to deceive, make a false representation or conceal a material fact in order to be found guilty of welfare fraud. Examples include:

  • Claiming a fictitious or ineligible child;
  • Failing to disclose extra income or other benefits;
  • Misrepresenting marital or residence status (i.e., that both parents live in the home);
  • Illegitimate collection of benefits under various accounts; and/or
  • Obtaining benefits from multiple states at the same time.

Prosecutors must prove that the intent was to knowingly defraud the state in order to prevail at a conviction.

As discussed above, the majority of welfare fraud cases are wobbler offenses, which means the district attorney has the discretion to pursue the matter as either a felony or a misdemeanor. However, a conviction of either charge can mean probation, fines, restitution and possible jail or prison time.

Defending Welfare & Institutions Code 10980

The prosecution can’t move forward with a conviction unless they can show fraudulent intent. If the prosecutor cannot prove that an accused had the specific intent to defraud, the charges must be dismissed and/or the defendant found not guilty.
Therefore, valid defense arguments a skilled criminal defense attorney could make include:

  • The defendant truly believed he or she submitted a legitimate claim for benefits;
  • Any incorrect information, statements or omissions submitted by the defendant were inadvertent;
  • The defendant was ignorant to the appropriate regulations and did not realize he or she was required to report additional income such as gifts or inheritances; and/or
  • The defendant was simply negligent in forgetting to update his or her status.

Furthermore, the top priority of welfare fraud prosecutors is to regain funds diverted from the county or state. Therefore, if an accused is capable of repaying all or part of the benefit money, the prosecution is often willing to reduce the charge, agree to a lesser sentence, or perhaps dismiss the case altogether. An experienced criminal defense attorney can negotiate an appropriate restitution agreement in order to keep an accused out of jail on such a charge.

Need a Lawyer?

A welfare fraud violation is a serious offense that can expose those convicted to a variety of criminal sanctions and penalties. It is of the utmost importance that if you or someone you know has been charged with welfare fraud, you speak with a knowledgeable and experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Our experienced Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney will be sure to fight until the end to reduce or drop your charges completely.

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